Course Hero. "Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Sep. 2016. Web. 22 Oct. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God/>.
Course Hero. (2016, September 2). Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide." September 2, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God/.
Course Hero, "Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide," September 2, 2016, accessed October 22, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God/.
Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 18 of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.
One afternoon Janie observes several groups of Seminole Indians walking past her house. She asks them where they are going and finds out that they are leaving the Everglades to move to higher ground because a hurricane is coming. The weather is calm, so no one in the migrant workers' camp worries.
During the next few days, more people head east, joined by rabbits, snakes, deer, and other animals instinctively fleeing before the storm. A Bahaman boy offers Tea Cake and Janie a ride out of the Everglades, but the couple decides to stay behind in their own shack. That night, a small group of workers come to their house to play guitar, sing songs, dance, tell stories, and play cards and dice. When the hurricane finally hits, everyone but Motor Boat leaves Tea Cake and Janie's shack.
Sitting in the dark, Janie, Tea Cake, and Motor Boat try to ride out the storm, but Tea Cake comes to the realization they must leave after all because the situation is too dangerous. He goes to look for a car and instructs Janie to wrap their important papers and cash in a piece of oilcloth, which will keep everything dry. Tea Cake does not find any cars, so they walk out of the quarters locked arm in arm.
The three try to outrun the floodwaters of Lake Okeechobee after the dikes burst. They reach a tall house on a hill where they take refuge. Motor Boat stays there, but Tea Cake worries that the house will flood. He and Janie walk and then swim toward a bridge, desperate to escape. Exhausted, Tea Cake falls asleep on the side of the road. Janie grabs a piece of roofing to cover her husband, but the wind lifts her and carries her away. Janie tries to swim back to Tea Cake by holding onto the tail of a swimming cow. A dog on the back of the cow threatens her. Tea Cake saves Janie but is bitten by the dog before he can kill it. Miraculously, Tea Cake and Janie survive the hurricane and reach Palm Beach, where they find somewhere to sleep.
This pivotal chapter presents the novel's climax and foreshadows what will happen to Tea Cake at the end of the novel. Hurston uses personification, calling the hurricane a "monstropolous beast," and vivid imagery to describe the hurricane and resulting flood. The almost mythic description of the hurricane serves to illustrate out how small and insignificant humans are in comparison to the fury of nature and the power of God.
While the hurricane is a testament to the power of nature, it is also a testament to the power of Janie and Tea Cake's strong bond. They take care of each other and are committed to making it through the storm together. While the storm rages around them, the recent troubles that they had gone through are forgotten.
The theme of race takes another form in this chapter, as Hurston's exploration of cultural and ethnic differences reappears. At the beginning of the chapter, the reader learns that the Bahamans felt discriminated against. Although the Seminoles evacuate to escape the coming storm, the migrant workers don't believe there is a need to leave because they have no regard for the Seminoles's knowledge for experience. According to Tea Cake, the Seminoles must not know very much; if they did, "dey'd own dis country still."
Chapter 18 also provides the phrase that serves as the title of the novel. While Tea Cake, Janie, and Motor Boat sit in a shanty—along with the other workers who had decided to stay in their own shanties—they wonder what will happen; they "seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God." All the migrant workers know that they are at the mercy of God's power, as exhibited in the hurricane. They are wondering what He has in store for them. Humans, in this passage, have severe limits to their own power and ability to exercise will. Almighty God can dispose of them as He wishes.